Tabletop roleplaying games, or TTRPGs, are a unique genre of fiction. As an TTRPG author, instead of writing stories, you instead unfold a manual of ideas, instructions, invocations, and inspirations—an imaginative guide enabling future groups of players to collaboratively craft their own unique stories centered on your settings and themes. It’s unlike any other form of fiction writing because players and the author determine together what a narrative is and means.
In this eight-week workshop, we will study the craft of writing TTRPGs, exploring classic and modern examples of the form. From Dungeons & Dragons to Bluebeard’s Bride to Fiasco to the work of Avery Alder, we’ll aim to understand the history, conventions, and community conversation surrounding TTRPGs. We'll also delve into the relationship between mechanics and story, creating characters and playing mini-sessions of example games to understand how game design choices affect the way players understand and tell collaborative stories.
This workshop is open to writers of all levels with an interest in writing and playing tabletop roleplaying games. While experience in TTRPG play is not strictly required, a basic understanding of how roleplaying works can be helpful—for example, being a fan of the YouTube series Critical Role is a great place to start, even if you’ve never played D&D yourself. The community of tabletop roleplaying is a welcoming one, though, and the key requirement here is simply openness to creating stories together with your fellow players (and maybe some dice).
Throughout, you will design and develop a TTRPG zine using the Polymorph system, an easy to learn tabletop roleplaying toolkit built for new developers and players, but deep enough to delight even very experienced TTRPG players who have been tracking the hobby since its inception. “Workshop” will be a mini-session dedicated to playtesting and providing feedback on the experience of playing your game.
You’ll leave this class with a deeper understanding of how to imagine and draft a unique roleplaying game, connecting storytelling with game mechanics—and how you can follow in the footsteps of lauded contemporary TTRPG designers, taking your creation from hobbyist experiment to polished publication.
Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features. The Zoom calls will have automated transcription enabled. Please let us know ([email protected]) if you have any questions or concerns about accessibility.
Check out this page for details about payment plans and discount opportunities.
- A playtested draft of a TTRPG zine ready for typesetting and submission/funding opportunities
- Knowledge of the publishing pipeline for TTRPG zines and larger storytelling game projects
- Experience with the mechanics, play patterns, and creation pathways for a diverse array of contemporary published TTRPGs
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Students will need to spend between 1-2 hours completing readings or watching videos. They'll also have a flexible workload for their game projects each week, which will vary greatly depending on the student. They could spend anywhere from 2-8 hours on the project each week, depending on scope and interest.
Week 1: Introduction. Workshop sign-up. Polymorph TTRPG mini-session.
Week 2: Discuss GNS and Other Matters of Role-playing Theory by Ron Edwards. Drafting game lore & pitching high concepts.
Week 3: Discuss Avery Alder talk on designing in dialogue with other games. Mini-sessions of games from the Level 1 Anthology.
Week 4: Q&A with TTRPG publisher. Polymorph mechanics workshop.
Week 5: Discuss examples of social contracts from contemporary TTRPGs: Dream Askew, Avatar The Last Airbender, and Thirsty Sword Lesbians. Character sheet workshop.
Week 6: Playtesting: Student TTRPG mini-sessions.
Week 7: Playtesting: Student TTRPG mini-sessions.
Week 8: Playtesting: Student TTRPG mini-sessions.
Nat Mesnard is a writer and game designer based in NYC, where they teach Narrative Design at Pratt Institute and co-host the podcast Queers at the End of the World. They did their MFA in Fiction and taught at the University of Illinois, and have published work in Bodega, Blackbird, The Kenyon Review, The Gettysburg Review, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. New work includes poetry in We Want It All, an anthology of radical trans poetics, and a tabletop roleplaying game, Business Wizards. Nat has taught at the Hudson Valley Writers Center and with the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop.
"Nat has one of my favorite professors this semester. They created a great environment to learn in and I loved everything we did in class."
"I enjoyed the way the course was structured. The games were always fun to play and discuss. I liked how we spent time appreciating the strengths in our art instead of criticizing where we fell short."
"Nat was an awesome professor! I learned so much from them and feel like I am no longer such a newbie when it comes to gaming knowledge. They genuinely felt excitement for all of our work as a class and were available reasonably outside of class time for feedback and help. I'm so happy that I was able to take this class and I'm sad it's almost over. 10/10!"